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First 1969 Plymouth Road Runner reincarnate

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2011

In the summer of 1969 Tom Decker was between his freshman and sophomore years at St. Louis University. His father, Ted, had helped him find a job while he was home for the summer in Topeka, Kan., and he thought, "What better way to spend the fruits of my labor than to buy a new car?"

The car that had captured his attention was a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner so he went to the Jim Clark Chrysler/Plymouth dealership and with backing from the First National Bank of Dad ordered a green two-door hardtop model with a roof covered by a darker green vinyl. The base price of the car was $3,083 and it came standard from the factory with a 383-cubic-inch V-8 that crank-ed out 335 horsepower. Most importantly, it was equipped with a horn that sounded "beep beep," just like the sound the cartoon character Road Runner makes before outrunning his woeful nemesis, Wile E. Coyote.

The powerful car was delivered before Mr. Decker returned to college. The day it was delivered he drove it to the hospital where his mother, Helen, was a patient. It was only a few days before her death but she looked out the window to see her son's new car and voiced her approval.

Nine months later young Mr. Decker learned that Goodyear Red Line Wide Boots offer limited traction on ice. The car was totaled.

Since then other cars have come and gone, but Mr. Decker says, "When I dream about a car, it's always about that Road Runner."

In order to scratch that itch he began looking in 2000 for a car like the one he had in 1969. He came close once to buying a red Road Runner but knew he wouldn't be happy until it was repainted green with black stripes on the engine hood.

Occasionally he would see an acceptable Road Runner parked in a lot and he would leave a note with his telephone number on the windshield. Not one owner responded.

Other Road Runners he found were too expensive or too rusty or too beat up.

Earlier this year, in March, he saw a green Road Runner on the internet. Because it was in nearby Annapolis, he went to see it on a Saturday.

This Road Runner had been recently restored and was the twin to his original car with the exception that his first car had bucket seats and a console.

Close enough.

I'm pretty happy," Mr. Decker says. The absent bucket seats and concole will give him something to search for in the future.

Between the two shiny chrome bumpers the Plymouth is an inch and a quarter shy of 17 feet long. The car is almost 6.5 feet wide which makes for a spacious interior.

Once he had the title in hand and was on the bench seat behind the three-spoke steering wheel, Mr. Decker fired up the big engine and with the unsilenced air cleaner capped with a colorful Road Runner decal, motored home to Aldie, Va., on the 116-inch wheelbase.

Once at home he carefully inspected his treasure and marveled at how close it was to the Road Runner he had owned in his college days.

Besides the obligatory turn signals with fendertop warning lights, the car is equipped with an AM radio, power steering and power brakes.

In hot weather there is a pair of under-the-dashboard vents to drawn fresh air into the cabin.

Beneath the hood of the 3,450-pound Plymouth a four-barrel carburetor feeds fuel to the engine that has performance cylinder heads. When downshifting while passing the automatic transmission leaves no doubt to the driver that this is a powerful car. It automatically shifts back to high gear at about 75 miles per hour. The speedometer tops out at at 120 mph.

Mr. Decker's model of the Road Runner was by far the most popular version that Plymouth produced, a total of 49,549. The odometer on his second Road Runner indicates that 40,868 miles have been recorded. He believes that figure is correct but it has not been verified.

"You'll like the sound of a lot of things on this car," Mr. Decker tells people that his car attracts, "including the 'beep beep' horn." He doesn't mention the best sound the Road Runner makes, the one that comes tumbling out the dual exhaust trumpets. That's a sound that was great in Topeka in 1969 and hasn't lost any of its appeal in the last 37 years.

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